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5 Questions: Rich Gorman of “Chalk the Block”

 

rich-and-dori-gorman-150x150Pastor Rich Gorman of Community Christian Church-Edgewater moved to Edgewater in December of 2010 with his wife Dori.  A former history professor at Fordham University in New York, Rich and his wife Dori are longtime community developers that were drawn to the needs and opportunities in Edgewater.  Rich and Dori live in Edgewater with their daughter and a baby on the way, can be frequently found at community events like the 48th ward Easter Egg Hunt, and are the faces behind “Chalk the Block,” an inspiration initiative meant to encourage and challenge people to think differently about their day.  A few times a year, Rich and others chalk inspirational statements around the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, Bryn Mawr, Thorndale, Granville and Loyola red line stops.  You can follow them on facebook, instagram at chalktheblock, and twitter @chalktheblockch (where they were even retweeted by eHarmony – really).

1)      What is the inspiration behind “Chalk the Block?”

chalk the block2When Dori and I moved here, we saw a lot of hurry, worry and busy – basically overwhelming stress – among our neighbors.  “Chalk the Block” is an opportunity to help people shift from being passive observers of life to active participants.  For us, that is theological – but “chalk the block” is NOT an advertisement for our church.  Instead, we’re taking the parable stories to nonreligious principles that speak to people where they are at.  We’re not trying to drag people anywhere (namely church), we’re trying to give love to our community – without conditions.  That’s the hope for all of us, both those chalking and those reading.

Every time we go chalking, our group spends about an hour chalking and an hour talking to people.  There’s a level of trust of the chalkers.  We’ve heard story after story of how these statements have made a difference in someone’s life.  For example, one girl near the Bryn Mawr stop once told me that the previous three months had been the most challenging of her life (among other things, her Dad had committed suicide).  She had been taking pictures of the chalkings and put them on her desktop at work – she said it reminds her how strong she can be.  Another girl, one year after her divorce and escaping an abusive situation, told me that the phrases she reads regularly make her cry, because they are a reminder of both deep hurt and deep hope.

Frederick Beichner said “Here is the world, beautiful and terrible things happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  This is what we try to portray.  It’s pretty powerful, but also really simple – at the end of the day, it’s just chalk.

2)      How have you seen Edgewater transform?

Edgewater has had a lot of great changes, but also some big challenges. Community Christian’s model of “doing church” is to invest in the community by being a part of it, to increase ‘buy in.’ So instead of purchasing a building and asking people to come to that place, we worship at Swift and pay rent that is invested back into the community, which can transform via the four P’s – power, pennies, parties and pain.  When we moved here, we saw three main areas of pain in need of healing: education, refugee resettlement, and mental health justice. So, we immediately started volunteering at the All American Nursing Home and at a refugee resettlement agency.  We worship at and are invested in Swift – the first weekend of worship it was just my wife and I, the second weekend just the two of us and a Somali refugee woman. But now we have about 130 people worshipping with us.  Celebrations like art – which “Chalk the Block” is part of – and urban agriculture are the “parties” piece, supporting local businesses is the “pennies” piece, and the Alderman’s office is the final P (my wife, Dori, volunteers in Alderman Osterman’s office weekly).

What is necessary to heal our neighborhood is already in our neighborhood.  What is thriving can be leveraged to meet the needs.  Silos ARE being broken down and more trust is developing.

3)      Chalk the Block’s success is due in part to social media and the hashtag #ChalktheBlock.  How have you seen social media positively impact the community?

It’s been really cool to see the response on social media – “Chalk the Block” is now in Las Vegas, Oakland and elsewhere around the country.  However, social media can also perpetuate the concept of ‘the other.’  We worry a lot about having a voice, but do we really hear others’ voices?  Social media itself is neutral; it’s all about how you use it.  So, social media is a great way to get the word out about healthy community events and news to bring folks together.

4)      What is your favorite part of Edgewater?

Our neighborhood is very engaged and active, which is awesome – it’s not hard to find volunteers!  We’re also very fortunate to have a great Alderman and staff – Harry really has a deep love and concern for the neighborhood that is uncommon for an Alderman.  There are so many great events going on – for example, Safe Summer Nights, which brings together agencies and volunteers for events where we work together to create a safe ‘hood and foster connections.  Another example are the CAPS nights out every Wednesday at Swift – CAPs are designed to address two things: one, the gap in trust between the cops and the kids in the neighborhood, and two, for the police to develop more compassion and understanding.  The Argyle Market Night, Family Fun Nights on Thursdays sponsored by our excellent Edgewater Chamber of Commerce…there are so many organizations and committed people involved and invested in our community, from the Chamber to Margate Park. This summer, we’ll be holding our Summer Food Program again, where we have breakfast together for an hour followed by an hour of family programming M-F 8-10 a.m.am at Swift.  That starts June 16 and is designed to cover the nutrition gap that can occur for students when school is out.

5)      How can we, as neighbors, better support our community?

By listening – listening is how we can be better neighbors.  We can celebrate joys together and grieve together.  We can hear each others’ stories and develop relationships that are built on trust.  It’s a game changer.


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